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A letter from Brenda Harcourt in Kenya
In addition to my regular positions of leadership training and teaching theology at the Presbyterian University of East Africa (PUEA) I take a few hours on Saturdays to meet with women in a gathering we call “Sewing Our Stories or Sharing Our Stories.” The women come to learn how to do different types of needlework, cooking and baking, quilting, whatever they want to learn. I have found these times to be so healthy for them and me. We talk about issues they are facing and how just being able to have a place to come and talk about them is so helpful. We have discussed so many topics over the years, from female genital mutilation to unfaithful marriages to finding identity in a male-dominated society. Last year we took a break from it and some of the women have developed ties to each other and continue on their own, and so we just started again this year. The gathering was based around learning to sew plastic canvas to produce boxes and craft items they can sell. I was blessed that several folks who came to the Kenya International Network meeting brought yarn from the U.S.A. in variegated colors and plastic canvas to add to what we can find in this country. Keeping the hands busy allows them to feel freer to open up and share those issues that are deep inside.Continue reading
A letter from Barbara Nagy on home assignment from Malawi
Greetings from Decatur, Ga., where we think of returning to Malawi every single day. We have almost finished our school programs here and will be spending the summer in North Carolina, visiting many of you before we return to Nkhoma in August. We feel blessed by so many things here in the U.S., a strong church family that has nurtured and encouraged us, many advantages of the Mission Haven community, and the learning that we have acquired through some lo-o-n-g nights of studying. Plus ice cream, watermelon, ruby red grapefruits, and water and electricity that work whenever you want them! The following stories are passed on by our colleagues in Malawi since we have been away.
The financial challenges faced by Nkhoma Hospital continue to cause severe hardships, and yet donations from friends such as many of you have kept the hospital able to offer all of its basic services while we wait for the Malawi government to solve its current financial crisis and resume paying its debts. There is an election scheduled for May 2014, which has already occasioned some violence and a few deaths. We pray that there will be peace and justice in the upcoming contest for president, and that no more violence will occur.Continue reading
A letter from Barbara Easton in Japan
When graduating from Kwassui some years ago, Hiroko wrote: “Kwassui is a Christian school, so we had the opportunity to learn Christian teachings. Among us there were those who had never received any religious education before entering Kwassui. Therefore, they first thought that they didn’t want to be required to learn about Christianity and shouldn’t have come to this college. However, as we studied it, we found the truth in the Bible here and there in spite of it being difficult to understand. Worship and the retreats were helpful to us, and especially did the short morning chapel brace us up. Some words that the preachers said sometimes made us consider deeply. We were richer spiritually than we had been after we heard them. I think even if we forget what we learned in class, we’ll never forget about Christianity. It will help us and give us strength in the future.”Continue reading
A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal
Dear Friends in Mission,
Keiko and I greet you in Christ’s name and thank you once again for supporting the work we do in Portugal. By helping us, you come alongside the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP) and give it the boost it needs to gear up for the challenges of spreading the gospel in this part of the world.
A major part of this challenge comes from the fact that, because the IEPP is such a small denomination, children who grow up in it almost inevitably end up marrying someone from another church body or from no church. There is, then, no guarantee at all that people who are raised in the IEPP or their children are going to remain in the IEPP. This problem has been exacerbated by the emigration of so many young Portuguese, especially our own youth, who were forced to leave the country in search of work abroad. What this means is that the IEPP is not self-generating in the way a church body with a larger number of young members might be. As a result, the IEPP has to do much more to attract new members.Continue reading
A letter from Chenoa Stock in Bolivia
Renewed on the Journey
“This will be a season of struggle, but it will also be a season of discovery and triumph, because, ultimately, Lent is a journey toward freedom—freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities hold over us, and freedom for new life, new beginnings, and Easter-living” (d365 daily Lenten devotional).
Well, my Lenten season definitely began as a season of struggle as I was diagnosed with salmonella the day after Ash Wednesday. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon among the expatriates in Bolivia, but that did not make the weakness and discomfort any more enjoyable. The obligatory time to rest and slow down did help me simplify my life, movements and diet to begin my Lenten journey, and also made me appreciate the feeling of being completely healthy and renewed a couple of weeks later. Triumph over sickness. Freedom from pain. This also is Lent: not to be viewed only as a time to ‘give up’ the distracting things in our lives, but also a time of renewal and discovery—renewing who we are individually and in relation to God’s Creation and all in it.Continue reading
A letter from Dan and ElizabethTurk in Madagascar
Thank you very much for your faithful support for PC(USA) mission efforts in Madagascar. By supporting us as PC(USA) mission co-workers and by supporting the efforts of PC(USA)’s partner church, the FJKM, in the fields of health and environment you are helping to bring God’s love to the people of Madagascar.
On a personal note, 2013 marked a new phase for us with Frances a freshman and Robert a senior in high school. This year is an even bigger year of transition as Robert graduates from high school. He will be entering Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., in August. Please pray for all of us as we prepare for this big change.
The year 2013 saw much progress in our respective areas of work. For fruit trees, over 200 trees, including many varieties that first came to Madagascar in our luggage in August 2012, were planted out in demonstration orchards. Many of the new varieties have been propagated and distributed to farmers. Canistels, low-chill nectarines, dragon fruits, and muscadine grapes are among the new fruits with particular promise. A practical course in vegetable gardening and fruit growing is continuing for the 7th consecutive year for FJKM seminary students. Extension efforts with farmers continue to advance. In particular, at Antanetibe Ankazobe, over 70 farmers have an average of over 20 tangerine trees. After less than four years these trees are now beginning to bear fruit, giving the farmers confidence that growing fruits will result in a major increase in their family income. This is an important step in helping families get out of poverty.Continue reading
A letter from Jacob and Aliamma George in Ethiopia, evacuated from South Sudan
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.
We were having new ideas for the new batch of students for the next three years of an intensive course at the Giffen Institute of Theology, with the addition of carpentry work! The graduation ceremony for the graduating class was very grand.
One Sunday we were waiting for the Dinka Presbyterian worship service; the Episcopal group was coming out of the building after their service. Bishop V.H. saw us and invited us to their Unity service of nine dioceses the following Sunday to provide the sermon and greetings about Community Health Evangelism. We got permission from the Presbyterian administration and went to the program. They pleaded with us to come back again, and young people were surprised to hear about the dangers of burning all kinds of things in their courtyard like glass, plastic, old batteries, vegetable/fruit tins, Coke or Sprite cans, and so on, producing dangerous chemicals that can harm everyone, including the unborn.Continue reading
A letter from Al Smith in Germany/Russia
There is supposedly an ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." I suppose for people who value security and predictability, uninteresting times are preferable, if slightly boring. Otherwise, interesting is better. No one with access to world news could possibly argue that these are not interesting times for those of us with connections in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Recent events in Ukraine and the subsequent reabsorption of the Crimean peninsula into Russia have made for constant headlines.
The nature of the headlines depends very much on which newspapers or websites you choose to read. Western sources characterize the events in Kyiv [Kiev] that led to the departure of former President Yanukovich as a Democratic reaction to his dictatorial rule. Russian news reports, on the other hand, treat the demonstrators as usurpers, financed by the West and dominated by fascists. Russian media have characterized the demonstrators as “Banderovtsy,” summoning up the ghost of Stepan Bandera, who led Ukrainian nationalists struggling against Soviet power before, during and after the Second World War. For anyone educated during the period of the Soviet Union, Stepan Bandera is only slightly removed from Hitler on the scale of human depravity. Just as most of us in the West would have to search to get the Russian media's take on these events, Russians are unlikely to get the Western take without considerable effort. Most Russians get their news the same way we do, from the nightly television broadcasts.Continue reading
A prayer letter from Judy Chan in Hong Kong
When the People Say No
Hong Kong is famous for many reasons. It is known as a world power in the financial markets, a city of skyscrapers with a stunning harbor, and a post-colonial Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China since 1997. By many measures, it is a great success story. Nonetheless, one doesn’t have to look far to notice the tensions simmering just beneath the surface. Someone has described the atmosphere as similar to a pressure cooker.
One way people in Hong Kong ‘let off some steam’ is through protests. Almost every weekend there are large or small groups of protesters marching through the streets demanding attention and change. This is normal for Hong Kong where freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly are guaranteed by law. Three recent protests highlight some of the city’s concerns.Continue reading
A letter from Meg Knight in Rwanda
Greetings from the Heart of Africa
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”—Matt. 5:9
What does it mean to be a peace-maker? How is that different from a peace-keeper? Is this just a matter of semantics, or is there an important distinction to be made?
That verse from the Sermon on the Mount has been much on my mind and heart in the last few weeks. At the end of February I was privileged to attend an International Conference on Reconciliation and Sustainable Peace at which approximately 140 theologians, church leaders, students, government authorities, translators, and engaged Christians gathered on the shores of beautiful Lake Kivu to ponder how the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer offer insight and challenge to Christians today.Continue reading
A letter from Meg Knight in Rwanda
Happy New Year from the Heart of Africa!
Dear, dear Friends,
It's impossible to believe that I arrived here just over six weeks ago! So much has happened since the wonderful send-off that I hardly know where to start. But before I tell you anything about what's up with me, I first want to thank you for your overwhelming generosity, for your prayers and e-mails, and every kind thought you send my way. It will go a long way to sustain and encourage me in the months ahead.
While all of you were probably still snug in your beds (with or without sugar-plum dreams), Christmas dawned warm and hazy here in Kigali. Christmas was so different than any I had experienced before, I wasn't tempted to feel lost or homesick. No snow, no lights or decorations in my neighborhood, very few carols, and no Santa Claus.Continue reading
A letter from Jan Heckler in Madagascar
The oncoming storm darkened the sky and the wind thrashed the trees. In more protected corners where building walls join, the wind was twirling in small tornado-like swirls, but in the broad expanse of the arena debris flew across the way and small branches were tearing away from the limbs of the trees. Violent clashes of thunder and lightning were closing fast as well. The crowd of 4,000 attending their church’s worship sat stunned by this sudden and alarming display of raw natural power. We all waited to see what harm or calamity the fast-arriving tempest might bring.
The FJKM (the PC(USA)’s partner church in Madagascar) annually celebrates the New Year with special ‘greeting’ events—social events at which people wish one another well, celebrate their good health and fortune, and thank their Creator for all of their blessings and the new year. Greetings occur throughout Madagascar in nearly every form of social structure and group—family, church, work, and so on. The greetings are always festive and occur well into the New Year, but mostly concluding by the end of February.Continue reading
A letter from John and Gwenda Fletcher in Congo
“I never thought that I could do an ultrasound examination and understand what the images showed, but now I understand the images and I am able to do the exams! This will make me able to help patients I couldn’t help before!” This exclamation of pride and joy came from Dr. Alex Mvita, a general doctor practicing pediatrics at Good Shepherd Hospital.
The occasion that led him to make this statement was an ultrasound-training program that was conducted at the Christian Medical Institute of the Kasai (IMCK) a few months ago. As often happens in mission activities, several seemingly unrelated pieces came together through God’s grace, resulting in improved skills for doctors and improved medical care for patients. The doctors at the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC)'s eight hospitals have long voiced the desire to develop and hone their skills in ultrasound. The Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF), a longtime stalwart supporter of Presbyterian medical missions, had obtained funds for the training of medical personnel and was ready to respond to the CPC physicians’ request for training in ultrasound exams and interpretation. It was thrilling to learn that there were funds to enable training, but what to do about the two major stumbling blocks of (1) no trainers and (2) no equipment to enable the use of those skills?Continue reading
A letter from Sherri Ellington on home assignment from Zambia
If sleeping on the ground outdoors in the cold, or with mosquitoes biting in the heat, will help him preach good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed, our student Mphatso Matemba is willing to do it. On one level I think any follower of Christ would be. But how often do we actually do so—put ourselves in places where we must make physical sacrifices on behalf of others?
Mphatso’s story of leaving his home in the city and taking trips to the rural areas of his country, where many have still never heard the gospel, is one of many that Dustin and I have been telling over the past several months as we visit churches in the U.S.A. to share about the ministry we are involved in at Justo Mwale Theological University College in Zambia—where Dustin and his colleagues train pastors for the church in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.
It is a story that inspires and challenges us personally. And it is a story that is indicative of the zeal of many of our students.Continue reading
A letter from Tracey King-Ortega in Nicaragua
Many people think my life as a “missionary,” by definition, must be exotic. You may be surprised to learn how ordinary my daily life is. But I’ve found that the extraordinary blessing in choosing a life of service lies in finding that in the most ordinary of tasks we are connected and can contribute to the dignity of all God’s children.
The first thing I do most mornings, much like many of you in the North, is brew my much-needed coffee. Actually, the first thing after I nurse the twins and get them changed and dressed for the day, is to head straight to the kitchen to make that pot of coffee. Still seven months in with twins, though they are sleeping much better now, the sleep deprivation demands that cup of Joe every morning.
Coffee, quotidian and seemingly essential to many of us, but not the source of our sustenance. Yet here in Nicaragua it is the backbone of the economy, making up 17.5 percent of total exports. I was surprised to learn recently that 300,000 jobs in Nicaragua are tied to the coffee industry—that’s 14 percent of national employment.Continue reading
A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice in Congo
“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path” — Ps. 119:105
There was a knock on our door late yesterday afternoon. When I opened the door, Mamu Lusamba said indignantly, “They took my Bible! They sent me back here with money to get another one.” She had just purchased her own Bible that morning, and one of her friends had insisted she give it to them (not uncommon in this culture). So she had returned with her friend’s money to get another Bible. But I was at home, so told her to come by the office the following morning. “Take the money though,” she insisted, “because if I keep the money, it could disappear because I’m hungry. But I really want a Bible!”Continue reading
A letter from Thomas Goetz in Japan
To Plant a Seed
“First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” Mark 4:28.
I have been in Japan as an International Mission Volunteer for nearly half my life. The whole time I have been associated with private, Christian-related universities: International Christian University in Tokyo, Kwansei Gakuin University outside of Kobe, and Hokusei Gakuen University here in Sapporo. Every now and then when visiting a church stateside, I get the question, “So, what have you done in Japan that might, even in the slightest way, suggest that you have done something?”
Gone are the days of the 19th century when missionaries would write dictionaries and grammars, translate the Bible, and found hospitals and universities in addition to churches. Japanese society has been through many transformations and the way in which we do mission has changed as well. Instead of being at the forefront, I see my role as one who plants seeds that may grow.
In this letter I would like to begin with a picture of a current construction project at Hokusei Gakuen University.Continue reading
A letter from Andres Garcia in Mexico
Dear friends and family in Christ,
There is a reason for particular gladness for us to be writing our regular newsletter for you from Reynosa, Mexico. To all of you, we send our greetings, feeling deep in our hearts an overwhelming gratitude for God’s love and your faithful support throughout the many years of our mission service.
Gloria and I didn’t imagine the risk of being abducted that day. It was March 3, 8:30 in the morning. We took our handbags and walked the couple of miles to cross the International Bridge. It was rainy and cold, but the weather conditions didn’t stop us because we had to perform a training session for a group of 11 women in Reynosa. Crossing the bridge, everything looked normal to us as the traffic of vehicles and people going to Mexico looked as it usually did on earlier occasions. Once we reached the Mexico side we walked toward the little park just across the street and waited for a taxi to stop. It took us a few minutes waving hands to taxi drivers passing by until one that was free stopped. We negotiated the rate of the service and once the deal was done we got in.Continue reading
A letter from Richard and Debbie Welch in Guatemala
Dear Friends and Partners in Mission,
Guatemala is often referred to as the land of eternal springtime. Yet, though more subtle than the seasons to the North, in Guatemala spring is a season that holds significance as a time of hope and change. Sometimes change is so subtle we don’t notice it until we look back and see how different things have become. “Charlie and George” are living examples of the hopeful change that opportunities for education are bringing to Guatemala’s indigenous. (Their real names are Carlos and Jorge, but they always smile when they hear the English equivalents of their names.) We first read of Carlos and Jorge through the mission letters of our predecessors in this mission, Roger and Gloria Marriott. The oldest of nine children born to indigenous subsistence farmers, the well-worn path to illiteracy and poverty stretched out before them. The crowded dirt-floor shack of the family house was hardly an environment suitable for study. Their small town did not have a high school. So the path seemed clear. They would quit school and join their father in the fields to help support the family, and the cycle would continue.Continue reading
A letter from Rochelle and Tyler Holm in Malawi
“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” Matthew 18:5.
We love living in Malawi because it is not just our work or our ministry but it is also our life here. One feature of Malawian living that has always impressed us is how people always care for those around them, especially the widows and the orphans and the clueless foreigners (that's us!). We may be becoming a bit more Malawian, but we have now been placed as foster parents for a little girl. Actually this has been long on our hearts—we were registered foster parents in Washington State before we left America and have talked with the Department of Social Welfare here in Malawi over the last several months. Currently we are still learning more as the days unfold, but we are very excited to provide a loving home for this child of God who is needing one right now. She is beautiful, growing (4 months old this week) and well loved. We are now in a time of cautious and quiet hopefulness during the Malawian Social Welfare process and praying for a likely adoption by us in the coming year.Continue reading
A letter from Gordon and Dorothy Gartrell in Brazil
Greetings in our Lord, Jesus Christ,
We want to share with you one way that your gifts have multiplied the number of people who hear about the Lord. You have given and can continue to give gifts toward our financial support and to enhance our work. In 1995 we were working in one church and, with the help of a lay evangelist and his family, beginning a new church. The lay evangelist, Edivan, was a well-known and respected mechanic from another part of the state. His wife, Vanda, and their four children completed his team. They each played a strong part in the ministry. The children each play a variety of instruments and sing beautifully. Edivan's sermons informed listeners about the Bible and challenged them to live stronger Christian lives. Edivan was ready to learn more about the Bible.
In Brazil, seminary is on the college level. Edivan had never received a high school diploma. He had taken all the courses but never took the finals for two classes. In answer to many prayers, he was able to take the tests and receive a diploma days before he needed it. We were able to direct some of the work funds from PC(USA) churches to help Edivan and Vanda attend seminary.Continue reading
A letter from Richard and Debbie Welch in Guatemala
Dear friends and supporters of our ministry,
One of our responsibilities as mission co-workers in Guatemala is the accompaniment of visiting groups from churches and presbyteries from the U.S. Due to the nature of our work with indigenous members of the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala, we are encouraged when we are invited to accompany groups from our home denomination that are called to partnership with indigenous people of the Guatemalan church.
In February we completed our first accompaniment assignment, traveling and working alongside members of Hillsboro Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as (in a wonderful expression of our connected church) two members of two other churches in their presbytery. This church maintains a mission partnership with the indigenous Sayaxche Presbytery, in the northern panhandle of the country. For us, being alongside this group of faithful missioners was beneficial and encouraging, enlightening and educational, and of course, renewing and restorative. We discovered how much we love traveling and working alongside groups of dedicated people who give of their valuable time and other resources to be present with their partners in another part of the world.Continue reading
Thank You and Your Family for serving God by taking His word so far from Your Home.
God is doing his work and using us a tools in other nations.during my working here in Athens i observed that there are many oppertunities to share the Gospel massage with other those do not know Jesus and we can bring them to Jesus Christ.Please prayer for me that i'm a very littel to that God is using me here in Athens Greece. God bless you.